The events of KKL-JNF’s 115th year opened with a festive ceremony at Kibbutz Yifat’s Jezreel Valley Museum, as part of the Jezreel Valley's annual Tastes of the Valleys festival. The ceremony also marked the launch of this year’s Tu BiShvat celebrations, which will take place throughout Israel during the coming month.
“The strength of our cooperation lies in our ability to understand the challenges that the area we live in places before us,” declared KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar. “We are planning to undertake dozens of projects on a vast scale throughout the north of the country, and we shall work together to achieve tremendous things.”
The event was held as part of the opening evening of the Tastes in the Valleys Festival, which brings together farming, nature and the tastes of local cuisine in the Jezreel Valley and its environs. This year the festival is celebrating its 'bar mitzvah', as it is being held for the 13th time (this year from January 20th until February 11th). Visitors are invited to sample the fare at local restaurants, join tasting sessions at local wineries, buy fresh food at the farmers’ market, enjoy the performances that will take place during the festival, and, of course, seize the opportunity to explore the enchanted landscapes of the Jezreel valley, Megiddo and Yokneam.
“The idea is to link farming with nature and the various tourist venues in our region,” explained Jezreel Valley Regional Council head Eyal Betzer. “We have had a natural connection with KKL-JNF ever since the acquisition of the Jezreel valley lands over a hundred years ago. Thanks to KKL-JNF and the Jewish People, we settled the valley, and today we are turning it into one of the leading places in the country. We are proud to show off to the general public the flourishing, flowering place we have created here together.”
Orit Messer-Harel, Director-General of the Valleys Tourist Board, expressed her love for the area and declared that there was no more beautiful a place in the world. “Our ambition is to publicize how beautiful this area and its sites are,” she said. “The views, the history and the people who live here all represent the Land of Israel at its finest and best loved.”
Nigun HaLev (“Melody of the Heart”), an ensemble founded by young musicians from the Jezreel Valley, entertained the visitors with music and song. The show was stolen, however, by a group of KKL-JNF staff members who performed a song written specially for the event. “Zionism and its fulfillment, making the desert bloom, the Jewish National Fund – my Fund,” sang the staff members at their premiere appearance, to the accompaniment of cheers from the audience. The song was written and set to music by Yakir Shahaf, who directs young people’s choirs and musical ensembles in northern Israel. “It was wonderful to work with these guys from KKL-JNF. You can really feel how they identify with the values expressed in the song, and they sing with all their heart,” he said.
The Tastes in the Valleys Festival is organized jointly by a number of local authorities. “Local leadership can alter reality,” Danny Atar told those present, as he expressed his appreciation of the local council leaders.
“It’s great fun to be here, we’ll continue to enjoy ourselves and develop,” said Ofer Ben-Eliezer, who is chairman of Ramat Yishai Regional Council, and Simon Alfasi, head of Yokneam’s local council, expressed his conviction that Israel’s valley region is destined for a great future.
This year, for the first time, Zarzir Local Council, which comprises a number of Bedouin tribes, also took part in the Tastes of the Valleys Festival. “This event symbolizes the cooperation between us,” said Ibrahim Heib, CEO of the Zarzir Council, and Danny Atar added that cooperation between Jews and Arabs is one of the wonderful products of the area. “KKL-JNF supports projects that encourage coexistence, and it will continue to do so,” he promised.
Chairman of Megiddo Regional Council Itzik Holevski emphasized that each of the areas participating in the festival has its own special character. “And we all work together to strengthen the region,” he added.
“Apart from being a happy occasion, this event also sends a message to the future for the strengthening of northern Israel,” said MK Eitan Broshi, who was himself born in the Jezreel Valley. “This is where everything grew out of, and we have the strength to continue developing settlement here.”
After the speeches were over, all the guests were invited to taste the delicious valley produce. “We’ll give all those who dine at the festival a supreme tasting experience,” promised Rami Ginat, on behalf of local restaurateurs.
The Jezreel Valley Museum, which depicts the history of local settlement and agriculture and the pioneering heritage of the first settlers, provided the perfect backdrop for the event. Visitors were invited to take a tour led by actors who played the parts of historical figures from the early days of local settlement.
“The museum tells the story of Zionist settlement in the Jezreel Valley,” explained its director Bareket Inbar-Cohen. The museum has over 6,000 historical items on display, including the stage coach that served as a taxi in the 1920s, agricultural implements and a collection of tractors and plows. A special room dedicated to KKL-JNF displays historic pictures and posters that portray the organization’s central role in building the country over the years. In honor of the event, KKL-JNF put on a special exhibition of historical photos and added some greenery and natural aromas with a selection of herbs scattered around the compound.
Events to celebrate Tu BiShavat will be held throughout Israel during the coming month, and a large number of festive planting ceremonies will take place, to which the public is invited.
This year KKL-JNF celebrates the 115th anniversary of its founding. Since its creation, the organization has worked together with its Friends throughout the world to develop the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants, and it still continues to do so.